The investigation into a massive fire at a west end strip mall continued Saturday morning with the arrival of the Ontario Fire Marshal.
London fire inspectors remain at the scene alongside the OFM, and officials say a backhoe has been brought in to begin sifting through what’s left of the structure.
Emergency crews were called to the scene at 1700 Hyde Park Rd., just north of Gainsborough Rd., around 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Thick black smoke filled the sky as the building quickly became engulfed in flames.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and a damage estimate is not yet known. Fire officials on Saturday said the extent of the damage rendered the building and its contents a total write-off.
The plaza is home to as many as 14 businesses, including the restaurant Porcino, a Benjamin Moore store, D&S Pianos, and Elation Spa.
Employees at Porcino told AM980 the fire started outside the restaurant and then spread. Police confirmed that the fire originated in the rear of the restaurant.
No injuries were reported, police said.
Ward 7 Councillor Josh Morgan, whose ward includes Hyde Park, told AM980 Friday he was at the scene and spoke with authorities and officials from the Hyde Park Business Association.
“We talked about doing a couple things initially,” Morgan said. “We’re going to have a short, medium, and long-term plan. Initially, communication is key. Connecting with the business owners, finding out what their needs are, and defining those needs are first and foremost.”
Morgan added crisis counselling and constant communication to meet the immediate needs of those affected should be the community’s first step in providing assistance.
“Some people may be able to access their businesses off-site without a physical location,” Morgan said. “When the reconstruction and the relocation is done, working hard to make sure these businesses are supported in the community (will help) to get them back on their feet.”
“I know that the Hyde Park Business Association will be working with our other community groups to do what we can to help support them …it’s tragic,” said Donna Szpakowski, President of the Hyde Park Business Association on Thursday, adding there will be a lot of work ahead to help the businesses recover financially and mentally.
“These businesses have gotten through two major construction cycles,” said Szpakowski. “This has got to be devastating for themselves as business owners, their families…this is huge.”
Morgan said the impact of the blaze also impacted the community that relied on the services the businesses in the plaza provided.
“I met with a little girl while the fire was going on, and D&S Pianos has the music education section. She was so sad that she will not be able to do her music lessons next week,” Morgan said.
(with files from Matthew Trevithick, Carl Garnich, Travis Dolynny, Andrew Lawton)